Posts Tagged ‘converters’


How to use the Download Flash and Video add-on for Firefox

January 27, 2011

I wanted to download some quilting videos from YouTube so that I always had them available whenever I needed to remind myself how to do a particular technique. Searching on YouTube in the hope of finding something I viewed 3 months ago was getting painful — I was tired of trying to remember a video’s name or presenter, even if I knew in general what the content was about. It was time to find some software that would allow me to download a YouTube video and save it to my computer.

The problem was, when I did a Google search, there were many applications out there that profess to do just that. But what was a good one? Off to Twitter, where I asked my followers for a recommendation. Within minutes @mikestarrwriter got back to me recommending ‘Download Flash and Video’ add-on for Firefox ( I checked out the reviews, then decided to install it.

It works well, BUT there’s NO documentation. Nothing to tell you how it works and what to do when it doesn’t work (as happens occasionally). So here’s the ‘missing manual’ for the Download Flash and Video add-on for Firefox.

  1. After you’ve installed the add-on and restarted Firefox, you’ll see a small gray down arrow icon in the menu bar.
  2. Go to YouTube and find a video you want to download.
  3. Start the video.
  4. Watch the icon. When it changes to a blue arrow with a movie ‘clapperboard’ icon (typically 1 to 10 seconds after the video starts), the file is ready to download. You can pause the video at this stage — it will still download.
  5. Click the blue arrow/clapperboard icon in the menu bar to see the options.
  6. Select the video size and format from the drop-down list. If I don’t want high definition, I’ll just choose 720p MP4 (MP4 plays fine in Windows Media Player).
  7. The video will now download to the folder where your Firefox downloads are saved (as set in the Firefox menu: Options > Options > General).

[Steps updated September 2013; link last checked September 2013]


Convert MP4 to DVD

November 2, 2010

It shouldn’t be this hard!

I purchased a downloadable 500 MB quilting video from a US supplier the other day. I could have ordered a physical DVD, but there didn’t seem much point in paying extra for the physical DVD as well as postage from the US and then waiting a few weeks for it to get to me.

The format of the video was MP4, which means it would only play in QuickTime, not Windows Media Player. No big deal. However, when I tried to play it from a local folder on my computer, the video inside QuickTime was very ‘choppy’ — the sound didn’t synch with the mouth movements of the presenter, there was quite a bit of pixellation and various other video artefacts in the image no matter whether I viewed it at a small size or full size on my computer. It was like it was buffering continually. I have 4 GB RAM in this PC (Windows XP) and the file was local, so the quality wasn’t what I’d expected. And I sure didn’t expect the choppiness.

I thought ‘Why not put it on a DVD and play it in my DVD player hooked up to the big screen TV?’ Well, why not? Unfortunately, it’s never that simple…

I searched on the internet and found that you can’t just play an MP4 file on most standalone DVD players — it has to be converted to a compatible format first. I looked at the options in my existing Nero burning software, but there was nothing about converting MP4 to a format suitable for a standalone DVD player. Next, it was off to the NCH software suite where I found that Express Burn Video could covert MP4 to a format suitable for DVD players. The process was very quick and simple.

However, it didn’t work. I took the DVD I’d just converted and burned to the player and inserted it, but I kept getting a ‘disc incompatible’ message. I put my niece’s wedding video into the DVD player and it also reported ‘disc incompatible’, which was weird because I’d already watched part of it on that DVD player some weeks back. Then I inserted a commercial DVD and it played fine, so I knew my TV and source settings were OK. Back to the computer…

I checked the file formats on all three DVDs — they all had an empty AUDIO_TS folder and a VIDEO_TS folder with several *.VOB and other files. To my uneducated eyes there was no difference in the file formats, so the one I burned should have worked. Back to the DVD player. Still the ‘home made’ ones wouldn’t play… Back to Google.

And somewhere in the sites I visited, I saw that someone had suggested copying the VIDEO_TS files back to the computer, then using another program such as Nero to burn them onto another DVD. Well, it was worth a try. And it worked!

I don’t know why it worked. I had changed none of the settings between initially converting and burning the DVD using Express Burn, then copying the files back onto my hard drive, then copying them onto another DVD using Nero. Go figure.

BTW, when I played the DVD on either my computer or in the DVD player, I got none of the choppiness that I’d seen in the when playing the MP4 file on my computer. So copying it was worth it just for that.

One final thing, in case it makes any difference to anyone else trying to do this — the Nero option I chose from the Nero StartSmart DVD panel was Recode DVD-Video.

The version of Nero I used came with my PC way back when, and is as follows:

(I found this by clicking on the Disk Info icon under Extras.)

So something that should have been simple took some hours and several pieces of software to work. I was prepared to put in the time and I’m not scared of computers or software and I’m prepared to hunt things down on Google. I’m even familiar with words like codecs!

How on earth do non-techie people get on? They purchase a downloadable video, then they have to jump through numerous hoops and do lots of testing (as well as blow away a couple of DVDs) just to get it to work on the DVD player in their living room. I think most people would just give up — or ask their resident 10 year old!

As I said at the beginning, it shouldn’t be this hard!

[Links last checked October 2010]


Convert to/from various Wikis

September 29, 2009

Sarah Maddox, a technical writer at Atlassian (creators of the Confluence wiki) and a terrific person, had put together a great list of tools and plug-ins that convert from various document formats into various wikis, and from various wikis into various document formats. Her focus is mainly on tools for Confluence and Mediawiki.

It’s a terrific resource and you can find it on Sarah’s blog:

[Links last checked September 2009]


Convert one video format to another

April 17, 2009


I downloaded some TED Talk videos from the internet. They were in MPEG-4 format, with an MP4 file extension. According to the Creative website, my Creative Zen Vision:M MP3 player should have no problem with this format. So I copied one over to the Videos folder on the Zen Vision:M and tried to open it. It came back with a message that the file format was not supported.

I noticed that there were some default AVI format videos in the Videos folder, so I thought I could convert these videos into AVI. I decided to see what software I had on my computer that could convert a video from one format to another, and then to test that the conversion worked and could play on my player.


I tried a couple of pieces of software I already had — Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Captivate, Audacity (yes, I was clutching at straws by now…). None did this sort of conversion — at least not that I could find in the Help.

Off to the internet… I remembered some audio conversion software I’d tested once before and vaguely recalled that the company made all sorts of conversion software. Funnily enough, I even remembered the name of the audio conversion software — Switch. So armed with that information, Google came up trumps with the name of the company (NCH Software) and its website ( and from there I was on my way.

I downloaded the free (lite) version of Prism, their video conversion software and tested it on one of the TED Talk videos. Prism is a very small piece of software and takes no time at all to download and install.

My initial test was to convert a 32 MB MPEG-4 file to AVI. I kept all the default settings and got a result — but it was over 1 GB in size! This was not a viable option.

Next I tried converting into MPG format — this time the file size was  more than double the original, but was nowhere near as big as 1 GB. I tweaked some of the settings too — for a tiny screen on an MP3 player and with ear buds and listening to a speech not a concert, I really didn’t need full quality sound. Tweaking the settings dropped the file size a little more.

I loaded up my test file onto my MP3 player and it worked! The sound is fine, the video is fine. The file sizes are still quite large, but I’ll be deleting these off the player once I’ve finished watching them, so for me it’s only a temporary thing.

I was impressed with Prism’s conversion speed, download size, and ability to convert all sorts of video formats into all sorts of other video formats — and this is just the free version. Prism Plus, the professional version with more conversion format options (but not MPEG-2), retails at US$39; if you want MPEG-2 conversion capabilities you pay a little more (US$57). And NCH seem to have deals on fairly regularly, so you may get the software for even less.


Word: Open old Word document formats

February 9, 2009

You hunt out an old CD or floppy disk (!), stick it in the drive  and see there are some Word documents on it. So you try to open them, but you can’t as your current version of Word (2003, 2007 etc.) does not recognize the older format.

Here are some options:

  • Download Word Viewer from Microsoft — it’s supposed to open the older formats, plus old WordPerfect and Microsoft Works documents, among others. You can open, print, and copy these docs without having Word installed, but you need to have Word on your computer to edit or save them.
  • Try opening the document in WordPad (all Windows machines — at least up to Windows XP — have got WordPad installed on them (Start > Programs > Accessories > WordPad). You’ll probably lose some/all formatting, but you should be able to save the text.
  • Last resort: Try opening it with Notepad — you’ll get a whole heap of strange characters scattered through the document (especially at the beginning and end of it), but in there will be all the unformatted text.

See also: Updating documents in old formats


Open a Word 2007 document in Word 2003

November 4, 2008

Someone has sent you a Word 2007 document (*.docx extension) and you can’t open it in Word 2003. You have a few options:

  • Contact the sender and ask them to save it as a Word 2003 document (*.doc extension).
  • Zip the file using WinZip or similar. Then open the zip file and double-click the DOCX document from *within* the zip file. For some reason, this opens the document in your installed version of Word (e.g. Word 2003).
  • Download the compatibility packs or Office 2007 viewers from Microsoft. Woody’s Office Watch article from 26 November 2008 has all the details…

[Link last checked December 2008]


Inches to pixels converter

August 21, 2008

Some quick ways to get the pixel equivalents for measurements in inches:

  • This site gives you an approximate set of values. Go to the second set of fields, enter the value(s) in inches, then set the DPI to 100 (unfortunately you can’t set it to 96). The pixel values update automatically.
  • Use a graphics editor (I use PaintShop Pro), create a new image with the dimensions in inches, then view the image’s size in pixels. PaintShop Pro X does this really easily on the New Image window. Here’s how: Select File > New from the menu, change the Units to Inches, enter the inch values in the Width and Height fields, change the Resolution to 96 Pixels/Inch, look at the bottom of the window—there’s your pixel equivalents. You don’t even have to create a new image.

See also:

[Links last checked August 2012]


YouTube, Flash converters/downloaders

July 21, 2008

If you REALLY want to download a YouTube video or Flash animation to keep on your hard drive but don’t know how, then try one of these online services:

(Acknowledgement: The Lab with Leo Laporte TV program; NOTE: I have not tried either service so I cannot comment on their usefulness or credibility.)

[This article was first published in the December 2007 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked January 2008]


Updating documents in old formats

July 7, 2008

Problem: I’ve been reading up on this new [version, platform, operating system] coming out soon and I want to know if it will be able to read older versions of Microsoft programs… like Word 98, and RTF extensions. If it doesn’t read them, then how am I suppose to salvage nearly 60 disks full of my short stories and stuff I don’t want to lose??

My advice:

My advice for older formats such as Word 95, Word 97 etc, is to convert them now to another format. Not necessarily to another Word format, but to something more generic (and potentially more likely to live longer) such as HTML or XML or one of the Open Document formats. That way you’re future-proofed for a while, no matter what software comes along.

It’s the same dilemma those of us of a certain age and over ;) have—what do we do with our old vinyl records, even our now-old CDs, and video tapes, and possibly soon-to-be-dead DVDs? There will always be new technology coming out (barring global catastrophe), and updating is an issue we all have to face, whether it’s our electronic documents, digital photos (gee, remember slides??), music, or whatever. While you may still have that old record player for your vinyls, you probably don’t still have the old computer that your Word 97 was installed on.

Think of both electronic and hard copy storage:

  • With electronic you could go to HTML/XML/ODF, or even throw the contents up on to a private blog (e.g. WordPress has the option to keep your blog private… of course, you don’t know how long WordPress etc. will be around, so that’s a risk… as is any web-based storage. But blogs like WordPress allow you to export your content in an XML file, so at least the content is preserved.)
  • Print out your documents with a laser printer (or something other than dot matrix (!) or ink jet). This creates some degree of permanency AND you can always scan them into software at a later date if you need them (OCR software is getting better and better). There’s something to be said for the permanency of books and paper!
  • Another hard copy solution if you don’t want to keep them electronically (i.e., they are finished), is to do some ‘vanity press’ printing through one of the on-demand print places, or a service like or where you can print your own book.

And a realistic look:

  • How soon before your machines are ALL on Vista and Office 2007? Possibly some years yet…
  • Can you still ‘read’ those Word 97 documents on Word 2003, for example? If so, load ’em up and save them into the Word 2003 format. While Word 2007 needs a converter to read Word 2003 documents, it is readily and freely available from Microsoft.
  • RTF is unlikely to go away soon! TXT is even less likely to go away.
  • Be aware that magnetic disks are inherently an unsafe medium that are very affected by their storage environment, so getting your documents off floppy disks should be an urgent priority in my opinion. Also, computers built in the past few years no longer have a floppy drive.

Summary: My advice would be to get them out of the Word 97 format and off floppy disks ASAP. The longer you leave it, the more likely you are to find that you can’t read these formats at all.

Update April 2009: David Pogue of The New York Times interviewed Dag Spicer from the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley about data rot and old formats:

[Links last checked April 2009]


Convert PDF to Word

March 21, 2008

Quite a few times I have been asked if you can convert a PDF document back to Word. In the words of someone on one of my discussion lists:

PDF is an end-result delivery format. What you’re asking is akin to asking for someone to take a 2×4 and make it into a tree again, complete with leaves and roots.

The best option you have with Acrobat is to export the images and save the PDF text as RTF using Acrobat, and then piece the document back together again in Word. But the original formatting is lost. For long documents or complex documents with lots of formatting or tables, this can become a time-consuming nightmare.

There is some software around that purports to do a much cleaner conversion. One that has been recommended—though I haven’t used it—is ScanSoft’s PDF Converter. (ScanSoft are the OmniPage people, now owned by Nuance). It’s relatively cheap at around $50 US. Details from:

[This article was first published in the December 2004 CyberText Newsletter; link and price last checked December 2007]